Photo by Glade Optics on Unsplash

The pandemic caused ski area management teams to change how they run their resorts. Covid affected every business function from technology to marketing and communications to day-to-day operations.

As a group, ski areas were forced to learn how to react quickly to an ever-changing set of guidelines emanating from the Federal government as well as those from state governments that were often not in sync with Federal rules. Coupled with travel restrictions, the covid pandemic forced management teams to become more agile in ways they never imagined.

The lessons learned emerged from the “covid years” fell into three large buckets – technology, staffing and marketing.

Bucket “one” were the marketing and operating challenges that accelerated implementing automation at almost every level of operations. For skiers, the most visible were RFID (radio frequency identification) tags that reduced the number of lift ticket checkers at lift entry points.

Resorts updated their apps for mobile phones so skiers could buy food at kiosks, order meals at on-mountain restaurants, and pick up their lift tickets and season passes with touchless technology.  Keeping websites current to reflect the changing guidelines and the impact on the area required management teams to drastically shorten their web site updating cycle-times.

Each new set of guidelines affected the marketing and communications messaging which drove new content to be incorporated quickly on the website. Websites became a primary means to ensure that skiers knew the area was open for business and what precautions they needed to take to be allowed to ski or snowboard.   Social media also played a role, so Facebook pages and other applications became increasingly important ways to communicate with skiers.

The technology fell into two groups – the ones an area implemented and will continue to use and improve. The second were applications that were needed or planned to cope with covid and now are in their hip pockets in case of another similar set of challenges.

The second bucket of lessons came were changes in their marketing message and how areas communicated with skiers. Traditional messaging changed from “come to our area, the skiing is great and you’ll have a wonderful time” to “we’re open, conditions are great, and here’s what we’re doing to comply with the guidelines”.

How to operate a ski area with less than the full staff is the third bucket of lessons learned. Management teams made difficult choices as they wrestled with ensuring guests had a great vacation while running at the area with roughly 70% of what would be considered the desired staffing level. Operating hours of some facilities were curtailed; some services were eliminated; how and when trails were groomed was changed while at the same time, the area operated as many lifts as possible to minimize lift lines.

Staffing shortages forced area management teams to increase cross- training so with little notice they could, for example, move a lift operator to a food and beverage site or to a customer service desk. Positive covid tests forced daily changes in staffing plans.

Overall, ski area managers said the changes made during the Covid pandemic will benefit both skiers and ski areas in the long term.

First, covid forced managers to learn how to react to rapid changes in the regulatory environment, the market and the economy knowing that what worked yesterday and today, may not work tomorrow. Second, technologies that before covid would have taken two or three years to implement were created, tested and in use in a year or less.

Senior skiers will benefit from these changes. For example, if you have an IKON or Epic pass, you never need to stand in a line to get your lift ticket. Soon data from your trips up ski lifts will be used to create models that forecast skier movements. In a few years, you may be able to look at an app on your smartphone and see where the lift lines are! How cool will that be!

One Comment

  1. A number of the changes implemented during COVID at Cannon Mountain, Franconia, NH appear to have been permanently adopted as SOP. This year they added a RFID system for the lifts. It will be interesting to see how many of the changes areas put in place become permanent, and how we, as skiers, adapt to them. Also, it will be interesting to know how many of them lead to reduced costs, as opposed to just cost-shifting to skiers and riders.

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